Chronicle of a Covid vaccination

The Covid-19 mass vaccination clinic at Sydney Olympic Park. Photo: NSW Health/supplied.

Sunny Grace has her first vaccination with the Pfizer Covid-19 jab – and despite some nerves, comes away grateful after an efficient, painless experience.

Just before I was due to turn fifty, I received a text message from Service NSW advising I was eligible for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. I booked in for my appointment, with the second again three weeks later. The vaccination centre is at Sydney Olympic Park. Quite a different vibe from the 2000 Olympics, I am sure, when government efficacy and community spirit seemed to peak; when Sydney was host to millions of visitors from all over the world. A sight we will not see again for some time, I predict.

And so, I dutifully drove through the new tunnel avoiding Parramatta Road and paying a toll to atone for my quick route, out to carpark P3. After parking the car, I followed the signs to the Covid-19 Vaccination Centre with the other lucky recipients of the jab, passing those who had survived the experience returning to their cars. I noticed they were wearing stickers numbered with 1 or 2. I wondered what number I was going to be. 

Arriving at a snake-like marquee leading into the vaccination centre, I was set upon by at least five staff members wearing masks asking for my code. I was ushered into a queue behind other eager vaccinees (is that a word?) trying to maintain a 1.5 metre distance. Isn’t it strange after a year of this pandemic we still struggle with distancing? 

Up the ramp and into another marquee where my QR code was scanned, and another friendly staff member asked if I had any medical conditions. I replied “no” and was given the number 2 sticker on my jacket and a new code with M220 printed above it. From there, I was sent to one of two lines snaking up another ramp into the building. On the right was me and my fellow number 2s. On the left number 1s. We shuffled up the ramp like cattle for branding. 

I noticed some people had an M sticker as well as 1 or 2. As I approached the front of the queue the jolly staff member tasked with keeping us in line before we were allowed into the building pulled them to the front and asked them to see the medical staff before entering. It was at this moment I remembered that my recent Graves’ Disease test had come back with indicators it was active. I wondered if I should put my hand up, but it was too late. Four number 2s were called into Pod 2, me being one of them. So that’s what the 2 stood for. Interesting choice of word: ‘pod’  . 

‘Pod’ definition according to Miriam-Webster: a dry dehiscent pericarp or fruit that is composed of one or more carpels especially: LEGUME

2a: an anatomical pouch

b: a grasshopper egg case

3: a tapered and roughly cylindrical body of ore or mineral

4: a usually protective container or housing: such as

a: a streamlined compartment (as for fuel) under the wings or fuselage of an aircraft

b: a compartment (as for personnel, a power unit, or an instrument) on a ship or craft.

As I entered the building, I realised the choice of word wasn’t so strange. I felt like I was in a compartment on a ship or craft. Except I wasn’t. The interior was all white with staff dressed in blue uniforms. I was welcomed by one of these masked blue crew whom I showed my new code number M220. The crew member scanned the rows of black chairs for an empty seat in the rows of seats spaced exactly 1.5 metres apart. I obediently took my seat and noticed three big screens just above eyesight, in front of me and my fellow passengers. Numbers popped up, L187 … L188. And a section next to each number. Section 8. 

I looked across the white office-like cubicle wall to see signs pointing to various sections on the other side of the wall. As I pulled out my phone to Google ‘Graves’ Disease reactions to Pfizer‘ just in case, I noticed the strange music playing through the building. Sort of like a cross between muzak and meditation music. And yet not. The kind of music I think would play in Orwell’s’ 1984 or in sci-fi movies when people are being brainwashed. Perhaps there were subliminal messages such as: ‘You will do as you’re told’, ‘You will follow the rules,’ ‘You will vote for ScoMo at the next election.’ Looking down the rows of people beside and behind, it occurred to me that I was now in the matrix. The white room. My fellow passengers seemed as brainwashed as I felt. No one really looking at each other or interacting. My Google search came up with no known interactions for Graves’ and Pfizer, so I went back to watching the screen … M217, M219, M220 Section 35. That’s me! 

I jumped up from my chair and walked to very end of the room past more rows, this time of desks and computers and nurses and passengers. We were all so close and yet so far apart. I felt very alone. On my left was the observation deck. Although rather than a deck for watching passing comets and planets, it is more fellow passengers, post jab who are being observed. Silence amongst them all as they dutifully scrolled their screen device or possibly even a book. This was part of the instructions given prior to arriving. Bring a book or tablet to distract one during observation. 

As I reached section 35, I was greeted by a woman sitting at a desk. 

“Sunny?” 

“Yes.” 

“Take a seat, please.”

I sat next to her as she pulled up a questionnaire on the computer in front of her and started to ask me questions about my identity and health. She was asking them quite haphazardly, like she was over asking them. I don’t blame her. But we got to one about having HIT (thrombosis) and I suddenly remembered I had thrombosis when I was younger: 28-years-old. I wondered if this was a blood clot question and panicked for a second that I hadn’t fooled them after all. They knew I was fifty now and had swapped it! 

She asked me if I wanted to see a medic. I asked her if I was having Pfizer and she replied yes. Then I remembered mine was ITP not HIT. Both satisfied to continue, she took out the short needle, readied my arm and injected the vaccine. After putting on a Band-Aid, she stuck another sticker on my jacket with the time I was vaccinated and I was sent to the observation area. 

Sunny Grace in the observation area after receiving her Covid-19 vaccine.

The observation area was arranged as per the arrival area. Everyone sitting and distracting themselves with their devices. A clock mounted at the front of this section wound down the time till we were no longer under observation. Much like a school exam hall. Never one to like failing, my heart started to race and I felt a little faint. Shit, was this a reaction? 

I took a few deep breaths to calm myself and concentrated on Scrabble on my phone. I thought about taking a book but didn’t think 15 minutes was long enough for reading. Besides, I was finding it hard to concentrate as someone behind me slumped into my chair and a nurse yelled, “We need a doctor over here.”

There was a sense of urgency at odds with the calm subliminal colour scheme and music. It almost felt like this was a strange occurrence, like someone had collapsed on an aeroplane, not in a high-tech vaccination centre. I tried to ignore the commotion behind me; being prone to panic attacks, I felt it best to concentrate on my own breath than be triggered by another’s panic. It was apparently a false alarm and my fellow passenger had succumbed to nerves during the process of being observed. 

The minutes slowly ticked away on the clock in front of me until the observer called out that I was free to go. I ripped off all my stickers and threw them in the bin as I walked out of the building past the police cars and ambulances waiting out the back. On my way back to the car park I didn’t follow the signs. I went another route. Maybe to prove to them the brainwashing didn’t work after all. Still, in three weeks’ time, ,I will do it all again.  

Because we are lucky to have access to the vaccines. Any of them. And the process was very efficient and painless, after all. A slight ache at the site of the jab but that was the only effect I have felt. Less painless than the TB I had years ago. 

Sunny Grace is a Sydney writer, producer and director. Her website is located at sunnygrace.com.au.